Ten shameful minutes

In such an interval of time one child dies in Yemen. From starvation, bombs, cholera

Do you know how many things can happen in 10 minutes? One of my favourite contemporary writers, Elif Shafak, would have you know that this is how long it takes for a teakettle of water to boil, and that you could also fit an entire life, several even, into such a small window of time. She shares this in her new book 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World. But writers have the privilege of letting their imagination run free, even when telling true stories. In real life, a lot of different events, mostly brief ones, happen in 10 minutes. Important things usually take longer.  

Not death, though. It is always faster than us and operating under its own rules. Or is it? Is death so all-powerful? I do not believe so. It simply circles around us, waiting for the opportune moment. It does not strike us with its scythe (that is just a silly depiction), it does not have arms, legs or, most importantly, head on its shoulders to think with and make decisions. But that is what people do - prominent politicians and faceless soldiers. Just like in Yemen. There, the inexorable passage of time is punctuated by a horrific event every 10 minutes - the death of a child. This has been the case for the past five years - since March 2015, to be exact. Too long has this been transpiring in front of the entire, so-called civilised world, which has its eyes wide shut for it.

Do you have children? How many? One, two, three? Maybe you have one child. Now imagine that in the next 10 minutes this child, your child, is destined to die and you cannot do anything about it. It is an unthinkable thought, right? No parent can bring themselves to imagine this. But those in Yemen do not have to. They are living it. Every 10 minutes.

According to the UN, 2,100,000 children in Yemen are acutely malnourished, i.e. they are at risk of dying in the next 10 or so minutes. If they do not succumb to starvation, they are likely to be killed by bombs or cholera. The civilian victims of the war waged by the Saudi Arabia-led coalition are in excess of 18,000. Over 13 million people are starving. Now, at this moment. The numbers prompted the UN to describe the situation as the world's biggest humanitarian crisis in the past 100 years.   

Has anyone tried to find a solution? No. Not even the UN. The organisation seems to have fallen into a slumber in the middle of last century and nothing seems capable of awakening it. It shows signs of life from time to time with various resolutions on important issues, but those are either blocked by the parties concerned, or disregarded, again by those same parties. And the UN is left counting corpses.

At the beginning of April 2017, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres urged for $2.1bn in relief funding to be raised for Yemen. It was not made clear how the organisation had arrived at this number, for how long the money was supposed to last or how many more billions would be needed if the war continued. Three years later, I cannot find information on what part of the sum has been raised and how it has been spent.

The UN's leading humanitarian organisation – the World Food Programme (WFP) - is also collecting donations in support of Yemen, under the slogan “Yemen is starving. Help build a world with zero hunger.” According to its Facebook page, which is not affiliated with Facebook, 10 million people are interested in the campaign. Many have probably answered the call, others will probably follow. It is all well and good, as long as the help reaches those who need it. In the case of Yemen, however, the results of such a mission are more than dubious. The latest data shows that a third of all airstrikes have been against civilian targets, including humanitarian convoys, hospitals and schools. What is the point in raising money and sending food, clothing and drugs there, if they can be destroyed in less than 10 minutes? Is it not wiser for us to first stop the war and then help the survivors go on with their lives? Otherwise, we are being hypocritical - concerned and wanting to help, but only talking about it.

You are probably thinking, “What Yemen? The problem now is the coronavirus.” I agree. There is the coronavirus problem too. But the death toll of the virus is five times lower compared to the one of the war in Yemen. And by the way, do you know if there are coronavirus cases there? Is anyone testing, treating people there? No word on that front. This is not talked about, as if Yemen is not part of our world, but on some other planet, in some other galaxy.

The world will cope with the new coronavirus. I am confident. But it will find it difficult to wash away the stain of shame for what is happening in Yemen. People just like us live there. And die – not of Covid-19 (for now) and not of old age.

Think about this. Just for 10 minutes, before another child departs this strange, confused world.

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